The extraordinary diversity of the resident population at the Harriet Bryan House is reflected in a rich variety of languages — Russian, Italian, German, Chinese, English, and Spanish. Festive dinners celebrating the Chinese New Year, Christmas, and the American Thanksgiving are replete with intriguing, traditional dishes from many cultures, and special international dinners offer homemade Asian spring rolls, Spanish paella, Chinese dumplings, and Clara’s German Bundt cake. All these cultural exchanges bring a constant, palpable reminder to senior residents that they are very much a part of today’s global society.
Year-round programs introduce young musicians, dancers, and theatrical presentations to residents, followed by receptions. Regular programming includes age-appropriate exercises, training in meditation, group games, the garden program, and weekly films planned by social director, Fay Reiter, in collaboration with residents. A number of the residents I interviewed participate in these services; others create book clubs, monthly dinners, and get-togethers.
The Harriet Bryan House also boasts a large garden area divided into lots for each resident who wants to enjoy the challenge of creating and preparing fresh-to-table meals for themselves and friends. Area clubs, like the Stony Brook Garden Club, visit residents annually with baskets of red, pink, yellow, and melon-colored roses, daffodils, tulips and ferns, along with vases to hold the bouquets designed to their taste.
I was present on one of these occasions when club volunteers brought dozens of multicolored cut flowers to the residents gathered in one of the large community rooms. All were given scissors to cut and trim the flowers they chose for their bouquets.
While I was busily arranging red tulips and pink roses in a glass vase I had brought with me, a volunteer walked up to me and politely handed me a pretty glass vase like my own. I assumed she had not seen the one beside me on the table.
Stammering a bit and flushing slightly, she asked me if I was going to take my flowers back to my … er … ah … room?
That moment became a turning point in my adjustment to life at the residence, I realized how little the average person in Princeton or elsewhere might know about the gift of HUD’s low cost housing for seniors in America.
A small crisis of personal adjustment, linked to a few innocent words from a kind volunteer, suddenly enabled me to turn a corner in my life. I knew then that I would eventually write a story that could take the reader inside one of the Princeton Affordable Housing complexes to discover the benefits offered by one government agency, working together with community organizations, to enrich the lives of seniors and relieve them of pressing financial concerns during what should be the golden autumns of their lives.